TEl AVIV--I'm not Israeli. I'm a young Iranian-American Jewish woman that lives in Los Angeles and is visiting in Israel. But recently, I've had to run, duck, and find shelter from Hamas rockets, like all Israelis.
I am in Israel for my best friend's wedding. Since armed conflicts change on a daily basis in this region, little did I know that the situation between Israel and Hamas would escalate so that Hamas has attacked Israel with over 1,000 rockets and Israel's defensive airstrikes would continue beyond a few hours.
I have traveled to Israel many times in my life, even during the First and Second Intifadas when there were multiple suicide bombings in Tel Aviv every day, and I even lived in the Holy Land while I was obtaining my Masters Degree, but never have I been so scared as I have been the past week.
I had been keeping up with the news during this trip and when I heard that the IDF launched "Operation Protective Edge," I immediately felt uneasy. And it didn't get real for me until the night before my friend's wedding.
As I was gathered at the bride's apartment, which is on the top floor of a three-story building in Jerusalem, my friend instructed that a warning siren may go off, indicating that the terrorist organization, Hamas, has fired rockets nearby and that we should find shelter. Sure enough, 10 minutes later a siren went off. Naturally, given the fact that sirens warning of rockets overhead NEVER sound off in LA, my first thought was that it was an ambulance in the distance. But then I looked up at my friends and we all bolted off of the couch, running to our "safety," down two flights of stairs and into a small room. I heard the sound of three "booms" and my heart was beating at lightning speed with real, tangible fear.
For one of the first times in my life, I felt that my life was in real danger.
Her poor family, I thought to myself, about the bride. If their daughter and her friends are in such a state of fear and panic, surely they must be even more scared.
To my surprise, when we returned to the apartment, my friend's soon-to-be in laws were sitting on the couch, watching television as if it actually was just an ambulance in the distance. During a siren that precluded a rocket attack, they merely stayed on the couch and watched the news.
It did not take me long to understand that these sirens and rockets have become something that Israeli citizens have become numb to, as if being attacked and living in fear was the norm.
Thankfully, things quieted down a bit the day of the wedding. My best friend was about to marry her soul mate and we wanted to do our best to keep her calm and retain a positive attitude. I realized how in Los Angeles, we worry about weather and traffic delaying a wedding, but here in Israel, it's a much different reality.
In Los Angeles, we complain bitterly about traffic as we sit in our cars on the highway--we wonder what time we will arrive to work or home, but we seldom question whether we will be safe. Last week in Israel, our bus pulled off the highway at the first seconds of an air raid siren and we jumped off of the bus, ran and ducked for cover on the shoulder of the road, keeping our bodies close to the bus for extra protection. Every car had come to a stop and every single driver on that highway was crouching by his or her car. I can only imagine a scene like that on the 405 back home--it would look like something out of a movie.
As for the wedding, it went on as scheduled, and that night, I noticed that almost all of the guests were dancing and enjoying the special occasion. I couldn't help but smile, realizing that while these rockets do cause untold amounts of psychological trauma and physical damage, Israelis empower themselves by keeping their spirits up and continuing on with their lives as much as possible, while staying safe.
Perhaps THAT is the response that contradicts Hamas and its beliefs the most, and the one that will comfort me once I return to Los Angeles, read the headlines, and remember that despite these attacks, Israelis are doing their best to go on with everyday life.
Therein lies the beautiful difference. People in Israel are under fire but cautiously taking a pause from the rockets to live their everyday lives. In Los Angeles, people are all living their everyday lives, but would be wise to pause and think about others thousands of miles away. In Israel, chaos pauses for normalcy. In Los Angeles, normalcy should be paused for a moment to reflect about chaos.
As I continue my travels in Israel, my free-spirited vacation mentality has been interrupted by at least one siren a day, causing me to stop what I'm doing and run to shelter.
From this experience, I realized how strong Israelis are in times like these. While the Israeli population must live in fear, they stay strong and unite.
I am praying for peace in the Middle East and for the safety of the IDF soldiers and all innocent civilians.
I will return home soon, but I know that I'll never be the same.
Am Yisrael Chai!
Donna Maher is a Maher Fellow for 30 YEARS AFTER, a non-profit civic action organization that promotes the participation and leadership of Iranian-American Jews in American civic, political, and Jewish life. The Maher Fellowship is the first-of-its-kind young leadership training program for Iranian-American Jews in Los Angeles between the ages of 21-35. For more information, please visit www.30yearsafter.org